Blue Diamond Gallery shines after fire

by Amy Kingsley

The fire that broke out above Tony and Martha Forrest’s downtown gallery on Nov. 10 transformed an ordinary afternoon into a moment worthy of a Reader’s Digest vignette.

Tony Forrest, a general contractor by day and artist by night, ran into the smoky building that housed apartments, his studio and the Blue Diamond Gallery, grabbed a massive reproduction of John Singer Sargent’s “El Jaleo” and dashed across traffic-choked Elm Street. Before the fire trucks arrived, business owners, residents and homeless people formed a sort of reverse bucket brigade, transporting Forrest’s paintings out of harm’s way.

“The adrenaline just kicked in,” Martha Forrest says. “Then Tony ran in and grabbed the biggest painting in there.”

Now Disaster One trucks hug the curb outside the vacated gallery. Thick yellow tubes hang from the highest apartment windows and caution tape flutters banner-like between sidewalk and scaffolding.

Most of the damage from the fire, which started in the attic wiring, affected the upstairs apartments. The Blue Diamond suffered smoke and water damage. None of the paintings were destroyed, although smoke stained a couple of the pieces.

Not so the “El Jaleo,” which occupies significant real estate at the Tin Rooster, an interior design company managed by Martha Forrest. The Forrests moved all the paintings out of the singed spot and into the narrow storefront in the Southside development. The works sit stacked against the wall, wedged between home furnishing accessories, awaiting their return to the gallery.

The Blue Diamond moved into the spot vacated by coffee house/theater the Scene in July of this year. Tony Forrest had been working in a studio space above the Tin Rooster, but when his wife’s business grew, the painter found himself evicted.

“We needed a place to roll out fabric and plans,” Martha Forrest says.

When Lowell Bridger, who is Martha Forrest’s business partner, quit the coffee house business, the Forrests moved in. Tony Forrest set up studio space in the back, and then the pair converted the front into an art gallery.

The spot opened unofficially on July 4 and has hosted three shows since then. The first was a collection of Tony Forrest’s paintings and the other two featured textile arts from concept to execution. A 100-year-old Moldovan rug was among the items still occupying gallery space when the fire hit. It has since been moved to the Ambleside Gallery for a special presentation called “An Evening in Moldova.”

The Forrests hope to move “El Jaleo” and several other Sargent reproductions back into the Blue Diamond space in time for the opening of “A Salute to Sargent.” The show is scheduled to open on Dec. 1, and the people from Disaster One have promised them the gallery will be ready.

“A Salute to Sargent” will feature Tony Forrest’s interpretations of a number of Sargent’s best-known works. The late 19th century artist was renowned for his portraiture and realist style. Forrest’s versions aren’t copies but do honor the spirit and style of the originals.

In a little over a week, the Forrests plan to have the Sargent show hung on the walls and ready for the VIP preview show on Nov. 30.

“They’re saying they can have us back in there,” Tony Forrest says.

He and his wife praise the work of Disaster One. The company has worked with their insurance and so far they have not suffered any financial loses.

When the gallery reopens, the Forrests hope to expand exhibition opportunities to artists nationwide.

“We feel like the local art is covered pretty well,” Martha Forrest says. “And the Ambleside has done a good job with the international artists. But there are just not a lot of places you can go in Greensboro to see national artists.”

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